Our final night in Cape Town, and South Africa, promised to be a special one at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel. We were invited to sample a unique and interactive experience called Chef’s Table. Rather than taking a seat in the grandeur of the restaurant, we were allowed backstage. Dinner would be served in the company of the chefs; the sights, sounds and smells of an active hotel kitchen providing all of the theatre for the evening.
The food was to be enjoyed over several courses (paired with wine, naturally), and within seconds of sitting down, we were chatting to the Executive Pastry Chef over a plate of the most beautiful freshly-baked breads. The accompanying three butters added an extra edge to the dish; the olive-infused option being a personal favourite. Course two, still a starter, was a homage to the humble pig. I’ll admit that I was a bit wary of having pork crackling and marrow on the same plate, but it was a complete culinary epiphany sampling this dish. The onion-coated truffles were utterly delectable and the marrow itself, while very fatty, tasted like a smooth butter. I even enjoyed the crackling. Pigs do fly after all.
As I can’t eat oysters, our third courses took different directions. For me, it was the unhealthier (but definitely more delicious) counterpart to a bowl full of veg. The tempura batter was light and fluffy and the accompanying sauce added an extra edge. As with the previous two dishes, the chef responsible for cooking the dish came out an explained the thinking behind the recipe and cooking process. It definitely made you appreciate the food even more.
The fourth course marked a move onto the “mains”. By this point, my belt had run out of spare notches and we were very, very full. We did ask the service to be slowed down slightly to build up an appetite for each course and the chefs were more than happy to oblige. The perfectly cooked chicken steak tasted incredible with the grilled sweet corn and tenderstem broccoli, and this lighter dish was a good sequel to the heavy tempura that came before it. A generous portion of South Africa’s finest chardonnay was the only way to wash it down.
Next up, two courses of red meat served with my new favourite wine, a Pinotage. The Lamb Fillet was full of flavour and a was perfectly married to the pomme puree that came with it. The Candied Nut Crusted Springbok Loin was even better; the lean meat served almost rare, with a selection of stuffed onions and spinach. It was almost a work of art to look at, and I did feel slightly guilty about slicing it up. The Executive Chef, Dion Vengatass, talked us through the creation as we did our best to multitask with a knife and fork in hand.
With our stomachs sizes possibly verging on the limits of human ability, there was one final surprise in store. Well, two if you include the fact that Katie was now beyond that limit and wavered the chance to sample dessert. The final course was a pairing of whisky, coffee and ice cream. You can’t have steak or chicken for dessert so, if we exclude those, it was literally a presentation of my three favourite foods in life. Whisky and coffee are always a natural pairing, but adding in the sweetness of the ice cream and the crisp chocolate brownie took this dessert to another level. I did, of course, manage to finish both portions (much to Katie’s mixed reaction of both awe and disbelief).
If you do visit Cape Town then I highly recommend a trip to the Belmond anyway and, if there is availability, the Chef’s Table experience is certainly worth a try. Even more unbelievable is that all seven courses, complete with wine pairings, will set you back approximately £65 per person on today’s exchange rate. It almost warrants spending another £800 on a return flight…